Riding a bicycle can be a fun and healthy way to spend time outdoors, but for many, the trip can end in the emergency room. Each year in the United States, about 800 bicyclists are killed and another 500,000 are transported to hospitals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly half of these injuries are children and teens, with a third of those cases involving head injuries.
The Best Line of Defense
“A bike helmet is the best line of defense against a severe head injury,” said Rebecca Melvin, TraumaOne education coordinator at UF Health Jacksonville. “When it’s worn on your head correctly, it can help save your life.”
UF Health TraumaOne hosts several bike rodeos annually as part of its Trauma Prevention Program. The hour-long event provides hands-on instruction on bike safety basics by allowing children to ride through an obstacle course. Every child is also fitted with a helmet.
“Before you get on a bike, you need to make sure the chain is intact, the brakes work and the tires are in good condition to ensure it is suitable to ride,” Melvin said. In Florida, bike riders on the road are considered motorists and must adhere to all of the traffic signs and laws. “If there is a stop sign, you must stop,” Melvin said. “If there is a yield sign, you have to yield.”
Bike riders 16 and under are also required to wear a helmet in Florida. Melvin says the best way to ensure your children adhere to this is by wearing one, too.
“Children learn best by example,” she said. “If they see you in a helmet, they are more likely to wear theirs.”
“Helmets are vital in sports and bicycle riding,” said Phyllis Hendry, MD, pediatric medical director for UF Health TraumaOne. “Wearing a helmet is similar to wearing a seatbelt. It doesn’t mean you won’t get into an accident or have a head injury, but it definitely lowers the severity of the injury, such as falling off a bike or a football collision.”
Common Causes of Traumatic Brain Injuries
A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, occurs when there is a disruption or change in the normal brain function that can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. The four common causes of TBIs are falls, motor vehicle or traffic accidents, collisions of any kind and assaults.
“Symptoms can range from headache, vomiting and fatigue, to being unresponsive or having seizures,” Hendry said. “Symptoms can last hours, days or, in severe cases, be permanent. The effects of a TBI or concussion can include impairment to thinking, memory, movement, vision, hearing or emotions, such as personality changes and depression. Fortunately, most patients with TBIs fully recover over a period of days to weeks; however, severe cases not only affect the child, but also have lasting effects on families and siblings.”
Helmets protect the brain by absorbing most of the impact during a collision or fall. They come in several sizes and must be replaced as the rider grows to ensure proper fit. In addition, helmets should have the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sticker to ensure it meets proper safety standards. Any helmet worn during an accident should be replaced, even if there are no visible signs of damage.
“The integrity of a helmet is no longer there once a child falls with it on,” Melvin said. “It may look okay, but you need to get a new one because it probably can’t withstand another fall.”
UF Health TraumaOne provides helmets and bicycle safety sessions to help prevent pediatric brain injuries. TraumaOne gives away 500 to 800 helmets every year.